McMahon: 'unacceptable' for school officials to fail to report child abuse
In the last two weeks, the Kane County state's attorney's office has charged an elementary principal and a teacher with failing to report suspected child abuse to state authorities as required by the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act.
"Time's up," State's Attorney Joe McMahon said Tuesday during his monthly media meeting. "I told you enough times to get your house in order, report this when you suspect it. Yet, I continue to hear of instances where school districts and administrators and people within a school do not report it. For those who continue to ignore that, it's time for a change in response."
Matt Willigman, principal at O'Donnell Elementary School in Aurora, and Elizabeth Aguilar, a Bardwell Elementary teacher, were arrested and charged in late October with failing to report, which is a misdemeanor.
Willigman, 41, of Geneva, is due in court Nov. 13 and Aguilar, 42, of Aurora, is due in court Dec. 12. Each faces a top punishment of up to 364 days in jail if convicted, although jail time is unlikely.
McMahon said more school officials could be charged. "Are there investigations in other districts that touch Kane County? Absolutely," he said. "Apparently, the voluntarily compliance, the educational approach is not getting through."
In May 2013, McMahon opted for a districtwide educational program for West Aurora District 129 instead of filing criminal charges against top school officials after a former band teacher was sentenced to 12 years prison for sexually assaulting two of his teen students.
Since then, McMahon said, he and his office have worked to educate every superintendent in Kane County that mandated reporters must call the Department of Children and Family Services Abuse hotline at (800) 25-ABUSE immediately if they suspect or are informed of suspected child abuse.
"It's inexcusable," he said. "School districts are either not paying attention or they appear to be flagrantly ignoring their responsibilities under the Mandated Reporter Act, which has been the law in this state for many years."
McMahon said he wanted to encourage school boards to hold their respective superintendents accountable for ensuring every school employee -- from principal to janitor -- follows the law.
Reporting abuse is more critical in light of the USA Gymnastics scandal, abuse at Penn State University and the Catholic Church priest abuse scandal and cover-up, he stressed.
"It's not a 'report when you get around to it.' It's not a report after you clear it with your supervisor. It is a legal obligation to immediately report (to the DCFS hotline)," McMahon said. "I wish that message had gotten through clearer, earlier, but it's unacceptable to me that people that work in a school district do not comply with that law. It's not a voluntary law. It's not an excuse that somebody didn't know they were a mandated reporter."